Saturday, 28 November 2009

In Praise of Team Awesome - Ali and Brian to win Strictly

What a week it's been for Strictly Come Dancing. Just a week after losing Jade Johnson to a ligament injury, and a fortnight after Laila Rouass sprained her ankle hours before the show, Ali Bastian fell on her foot in training for the Charleston on Monday. A shell-shocked looking Brian Fortuna told Claudia on ITT on Wednesday night how he'd taken her to a specialist on Tuesday morning and she's had all sorts of tests. Thankfully there's no fracture or ligament injury, but her bone is badly bruised. Ouch.

The Charleston is a lively and energetic dance which requires lots of jumping and swivelly ankles so I can imagine how painful and unpleasant training must have been for Ali this week. Team Awesome, as Ali and Brian are colloquially known by their ever growing legion of fans, are usually right up at the top of the "hours trained" leader board, but as of Thursday's ITT were 10 hours down on Chris and Ola. It would be a miracle if their performance came anywhere close to the perfection they achieved with their Viennese Waltz at Blackpool.

For that reason, I'm quite worried about them tonight, so they are going to need every single vote. There's only five couples left and if they end up mid table, they could easily end up in the dance off. Natalie and Chris are, rightly, very popular. They may not get as high marks from the Judges but I suspect they run away with viewer votes. Neither has yet been tested with a dance off. Laila and Anton have had a couple of off weeks but the Charleston should suit them and they seem to be having fun with it.

If their performance has already been compromised by Ali's injury, then there is a possibility that the they could be eliminated in the dance-off. We know that this is only a blip in a series of amazing dances from them and it would be so unfair if they had to leave before their time.

Ricky may have the torso and the tricks, and he can certainly move, but Ali's graceful, often fragile, balletic style of dance is absolutely gorgeous. The Judges keep commenting on her arms and they are right - always so perfectly and precisely placed. Her attention to that sort of details is great. Ricky and Ali are by far the best dancers in the competition, and I guess the difference between them is like that between exquisite crystal and a marathon fireworks display. Both are great to watch.

Apart from the brilliant dances they've given us, from that perfect, enchanting Viennese Waltz, to last week's beautiful foxtrot, to the cheeky cha cha cha to their elegant and glamorous American Smooth, they are such a lovely pair. They obviously get on, whether or not they are actually an item. If they're not already, my guess is it's only a matter of time, but it's up to them.

I've been impressed too with the way that Brian goes out of his way to engage with their supporters. He often has some marathon Twitter sessions and he does make an effort to respond to everybody. I've had several replies from him, much to my surprise. He's also active on Facebook, too, not that the technology will let me into his page to link to it.

So, for great dancing by lovely people who are proactive about keeping in touch with their fans, there's no better team than Ali and Brian. Here's hoping they stay in tonight.

Here's a reminder of their brilliant American Smooth.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Bruce to miss Strictly show tonight

Poor Bruce Forsyth has the Flu and is very sensibly staying at home tonight. For the first time ever, he won't be present for a Strictly live show. I hope he gets better soon and is back there next week. That man has been brightening up my Saturday nights since I was a child and I adore him.

I'm glad that the BBC have not decided they need to bring in a random man to replace him. For tonight, Tess will take over Bruce's presenting abilities and the effervescent and just slightly bonkers Claudia Winkleman will take her unique interviewing style backstage to do Tess's job.

It'll be a unique show, I hope, but I can't wait to see how Tess and Claudia adjust to their new roles.

Nobody should leave!

I guess every year there comes a point in the season, athat you realise that you don't want anyone to go. All the really bad dancers and people who aren't enjoying have been eliminated. There's usually been a shock elimination of someone who should have progressed to the final, this year Zoe Lucker. Then you realise that what you actually want to do is lock everyone up in tv centre and simply not allow them to leave, having them dance each week in perpetuity for our enjoyment.

Every year you think it's the first time you've felt this. You completely forget as each season is caught up in its own little bubble.

This year, the eight couples left all have their unique selling point which endears them to the public.

For Ricky Whittle the attraction is obvious. Apart from his ability to dance, the man is, shall we say, not at all bad to look at, especially in Latin costume.

For Natalie Cassidy and Vincent Simone, it's her obvious love of what she's doing. She's like a wee kid in a sweetie shop and she sees every single dance as a challenge and an adventure. She needs to do a bit more on technique, but what she lacks there she makes up for in performance, throwing herself into the spirit of whatever dance she's doing. I can't remember hearing her whinge once.

For Laila Rouass it's the beauty of her ballroom dancing and her struggle to get to grips with the Latin. There's also the fact that she's dancing with Anton. He is back to his usual funny self after his faux pas earlier in the season. At least he had the decency to apologise and Laila the good grace to accept that and move on. The only real weakness is her Latin. That is not her fault. Anton, bless him, wonderful though he is in every respect, is not the best Latin dancer and choregrapher and it shows. He's competent, but he just doesn't get it. He also doesn't have any sort of love for it, thinking the samba is a silly dance.

For Jade Johnson, it's the fact that she's learning about being part of a team and not competing solely for herself, she's getting to grips with the girly side of the dance as well. I can't wait to see their Tango tonight - Ian Waite's first since the legendary performance he did with Zoe Ball 4 years ago.

For Ricky Groves it's the combination of his sense of fun and drama along with Erin's choreography which really gets the best out of him. I fear for them tonight however as they have struggled with their Viennese Waltz training and they were in the bottom two last week.

For Phil Tufnell it's the triumph over adversity thing - imagine going through surgery on your knee and being back in the training room two days later. He's been surprising in his ability to take it all seriously and he seems to have rediscovered his competitive spirit in the last couple of weeks. He could last a while more as long as he can stay out of the dance off.

For Chris Hollins it's been his fall from grace and slow rebuild after a fantastic start. That, and the fabulous and funny partnership he has with "Mrs Jordan". What is it about these BBC Breakfast presenters? Bill Turnbull was exactly the same. I've never really warmed to Ola as a person until this year but she and Chris obviously get on so well and have very complementary senses of humour. With Chris we've all been gutted for him in the weeks when he just lost it with the live performance and cheered when he rocked the house with his Foxtrot in Blackpool. His Paso looked fantastic in training - he's clearly been learning from Ola's tough love. I'm not sure about a Paso to the Darkness' I believe in a Thing Called Love, but I suspect it will turn out to be a real crowd pleaser.

For me, Ali Bastian has it all - a great chemistry between her and her partner Brian which they've had to endure a fair bit of teasing about, a fragility, grace and elegance that I don't think we've seen in anyone before. Alesha talked about how fantastic her arm work was. She really seems to have a good instinct for what she needs to do to make a beautiful line. Their Viennese Waltz last week thoroughly deserved its perfect score.

So I hope I've made the case for a BBC TV Centre lock in, but, sadly, it's not going to happen. I will be voting for Ali for sure this evening - the fact that she was in the dance off from fairly high up the leader board a fortnight ago worries me and I really want to see her in the final. Chris and Natalie also must stay, for me - they embody everything the programme is about - entertaiment and good dancing. I suspect that Laila and Ricky will be vulnerable - Laila because she's doing a Rumba which looked a bit awkward in training, and Ricky because he's doing a Viennese Waltz which is magical done well but uninspiring if not.

While we're on the subject of Viennese Waltzes, Ali's last weekend was so enchanting. It could have come straight out of a fairy tale.

Here it is again - it is simply not possible to watch this and feel miserable. Enjoy!